Deanna Price, the two-time defending NCAA hammer champion, had been in the spotlight before.

But, this was Rio de Janeiro. This was the Olympics, the largest stage of her athletic career. The former Saluki just didn’t feel right in warm-ups. The Benadryl she was taking to battle an allergic reaction left her somewhat drowsy. And, she was nervous — really nervous.

Then, a voice from heaven, at least from high in the stands, brought the situation into focus.

“All I could hear was my mother’s voice,” Price said. “All I could see was my mother running around the top of the arena and she’s screaming my name. I’m like, ‘This is like any other competition. There is my crazy mom.' That really gave me a sense of comfort and brought a little bit of home to Rio.”

While hearing her mother’s voice prepared Price to compete, there is no Hollywood ending to this story. The Moscow Mills, Missouri, resident did not earn a spot on the medal stand. She finished eighth.

“If someone told me I was going to finish eighth I would have been like, ‘Yes I am,’” Price said. “I was very determined to make the women’s hammer final. I was the youngest one out there. I was determined to make a name for myself and my community.”

At 23, she sees the Rio Olympics as the beginning, not the end, of the story.

“It’s definitely a good building block,” Price said. “I’m 23 years old. I just got out of college. I’m the first female in college history to throw over 73 meters. This is a good place for me. With this sport, more years is a definite advantage.

“You can last as long your body allows it — peak is around 32 to 35 years old. For how I’m throwing now, I’m ahead of schedule.”

While competing was her focus, Price allowed herself to enjoy the full Olympic experience. She watched some of the other track events. She watched Michael Phelps swim. She watched some of the beach volleyball competition.

”I was very grateful to experience it live,” she said. “If you have the opportunity and the cash, go and experience it.”

Price managed to get some NBC face time during the opening ceremonies by following her father’s advice — stand next to someone famous.

She worked her way through the line until she got close to Phelps, who was carrying the American flag.

“There were one or two seconds of me shouting, ‘Woo hoo,’” Price said. “Being there with Michael Phelps, the (Venus and Serena) Williams sisters, the NBA basketball crew was there. Everyone was there. It was just a blast everyone was on the same level. Everyone was taking pictures.

“I watched the Olympics growing up as a kid. Now, people are cheering for me. It was probably one of the best feelings in the world knowing everyone was so exciting and they were cheering for us. It was a great feeling. It wasn’t for me, it was for us. It was very overwhelming, but I couldn’t be happier.”

Being an Olympian is a life-changing experience on another level.

“Being an Olympian kind of gives me a platform,” Price said. “I can talk and people will listen. I can tell them how to be a good athlete. It’s not just being a great athlete. It’s getting good grades. It’s being kind.”

les.winkeler@thesouthern.com

618-351-5088

On Twitter: @LesWinkeler​

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Sports editor

Les Winkeler is sports editor and outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan.

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